The one defining feature of a hero is their ability and willingness to selflessly rise to the occasion in a time of greatest need. On September 11, 2001 there were many heroes that arose, but there was one group that was unlike any other. These heroes had four legs, fur, and a tail.

The Call to Action

[highlight align=”left, right, center” style=”default, different”]The aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11 was absolutely chaotic. Thousands of people were left trapped beneath rubble and debris leaving it nearly impossible for rescue crews to find them. In came a brave group of heroes: dogs. Nearly 350 search and rescue dogs and their handlers from all over the country were called to the horrific sites in New York and Washington to assist emergency responders in finding victims amongst the rubble.[/highlight]

Trained to Save Lives

[highlight align=”left, right, center” style=”default, different”]In order to be called to service for an event of this magnitude, dogs must be certified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). To achieve certification, dogs go through rigorous training in which they learn highly specialized disaster response skills. They are taught to detect the difference between a live body and a cadaver as well as to detect the scent of a person who is in distress. These skills were absolutely critical in uncovering victims from the debris.[/highlight]

Arriving at the Scene

[highlight align=”left, right, center” style=”default, different”]As soon as dogs arrived, they quickly sprang into action. Many scoured the wreckage for over 12 hours at a time, signaling to their handler when they came across someone. Countless stories arose of heroic dogs like Riley, a golden retriever who was harnessed into a Stokes basket and hoisted across a 70-foot deep canyon to reach a previously unsearched area of wreckage. Kaiser, a 2 ½ year old German Shepherd serving his first assignment, suffered a deep cut in his front left leg that required bandaging. Remarkably, he only missed one shift.[/highlight] [highlight align=”left, right, center” style=”default, different”]Sadly, many of the people uncovered by dogs were dead. However, the closure that finding these bodies provided to their families was priceless. As one handler stated, “I found it rewarding when my dog Alley, a Labrador retriever, found someone because that helped families with closure.  I could not stop the bad things that happened, but at least I can bring closure.”[/highlight]

A Friend to Lean On

[highlight align=”left, right, center” style=”default, different”]In addition to helping locate missing bodies, dogs also played a vital role in providing therapy and comfort to workers at the scene. Workers found solace in petting a dog after a long shift or taking a quick break from the dread to play fetch or catch. Dogs were just as important to morale as they were to the search itself.[/highlight]

Gone but Never Forgotten

[highlight align=”left, right, center” style=”default, different”]Today, 13 years later, a 15-year-old golden retriever named Bretagne is the only known surviving Ground Zero search dog. However, the fearless acts of all of those four-legged heroes will not soon be forgotten.[/highlight]

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